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Wednesday, February 15, 2012
Fifty years of K2

By Dean Seguin

A look back at K2 during the 1970s, when the Performers ruled the scene.

Once a garage-tinkering ski brand, this year K2 is celebrating its half-century anniversary. On Wednesday, the company is releasing its second Rolling Stones ski in a series of four skis to celebrate the company (and the band's) 50th anniversary.

K2 got its start on Washington's Vashon Island, where company founder and engineering geek Bill Kirschner produced and marketed the world's first fiberglass ski. During the '70s hot dogger era, the Performers ruled the scene, Wayne Wong and his white sunglasses became a sensation and the wet T-shirt contest was born (yes, you can thank K2). And in the '80s, there was the mohawked daffy mayhem from Glen Plake, and the rise of neon that catapulted snowboarding and K2's first team rider, Dan Donnelly, into the '90s. And the 2000s: the new millennium of innovative technologies and the rambunctious arrival of big mountain phenoms like Sean Pettit and Pep Fujas.

We sat down with Jeff Mechura, who heads up K2's global marketing, to talk about some of the defining moments for the brand and ways the company is celebrating its 50th anniversary.

There's a lot of hype around the Rolling Stones ski to mark the shared anniversary. How did that collaboration come about?
It all started eight years ago when we were holding a sales meeting in Munich, Germany, and the Stones played Olympic stadium. About 100 of us from K2 went to the concert. They were selling concert T-shirts that said "Rolling Stones: rocking since '62." We talked about how cool a partner they would be eight years later during our shared 50th anniversaries. Little did we know then that K2 would be a leader in Rocker technology and the collaboration would make even more sense. We reached out to them a while back and the band was really into the idea about collaborating on an anniversary series of skis.

What can you attribute to 50 years of success for K2?
It's the people throughout the brand's history. It's a very unique and eclectic cross-section of people that are connected to the sports they're passionate about. From sales to customer service, finance and development to marketing, everyone is all in, committed, loyal and knows how to have fun.

American racing sensation Spider Sabich (left) and hot doggin' pioneer Wayne Wong.

How does K2 stay innovative even it's been around for five decades?
The winter sports business is a high-pressure environment and extremely competitive -- you need to reinvent your product every 12 months, snow or no snow. You need to be ahead of trends. You need to continue to innovate through failures. But through those tough times -- poor snow years, economy -- the great teams are able to survive and thrive.

Describe K2's earliest days.
Imagine a remote island located in the Puget Sound in the Pacific Northwest in the 1960s. It was one of the oddest places you could imagine to establish a ski company. Added to that, the two Kirschner brothers (thus the name K2) first manufactured dog cages, not skis. But they were skiers, and they were innovators and manufacturers, so they started building skis for themselves, and the rest is a storied history. Those early days established the personality for the K2 brand. It wasn't an ordinary brand, it wasn't going to be predictable.

What's it like to look back on the earliest days of K2 and take stock of what it's evolved into?
It's pretty cool to look back at how the brand forefathers built K2. The 50th anniversary book project for us was definitely a deep dive into the psyche of the brand. What's even cooler is that the people that make K2 what it is today aren't much different from back then. The people then were connected and passionate, similar to those who are here now who love what they do. That's why we're calling the anniversary book "50 years of Serious Fun."